What it takes for a mother to keep working in tech

An on-call partner

When the school calls, we are both in virtual meetings. My spouse answers the call and has to abandon his meeting and head to the school to pick up our son who is feeling unwell. I carry on with my meetings. When couples share parenting, there is always one parent who will have to drop everything to deal with childcare emergencies.

My son had just gone back to school, for his first day at school during a pandemic. He made it all the way to lunchtime before asking to come home with a stomach ache. Once home, he shares a story of how a classmate tried to greet him with a fistbump – my son declined and the classmate called him a germaphobe. I’m relieved to think the stomach ache is just well-placed anxiety.

Remote, flexible work

Nevertheless, the school requires a negative COVID test before he can come back. Once again this task falls to my partner, but I rearrange some calls so I can help out by dropping them off and picking them up from the nearest testing site.

A well functioning healthcare system

It takes just over 24 hours before we get the test result. This will be the first of many COVID tests. The pandemic is just a series of emergencies one after the other. Slow and inadequate health responses mean schools end up shut for long periods of time, with Ontario students missing out on more in-class time than kids anywhere in Canada. It’s no surprise that millions of mothers, who bear the brunt of  childcare & domestic duties, left the workforce during the pandemic.

Understanding colleagues

I help with online school, but mostly I keep working. A fellow mum shares a story of how she was devastated after a colleague asked her to ‘keep her kids quiet’ during a team meeting. I am enraged for her – and at the same time grateful for the amazing colleagues I get to work with.

Letting go of working parent guilt

A nearby riding school offers a photo-shoot with horses in exchange for donations to help them out during the pandemic. We sign up and I promise to take my daughter to the photo-shoot. But then I forget to clear my calendar and on the day I have important meetings to attend. She interrupts a 1-2-1 to hold me to my promise to help her with clothes and makeup. I’m very grateful to my colleague on the call who cheerfully agrees to wait as I start applying makeup and styling her hair in a bid to keep my promise in the shortest time possible. Being a working mother is a constant battle to fight the feeling that you are doing terrible work and terrible parenting at the same time. The photos from the shoot come out great.

Other parents in the same boat

That is why it is very heartening whenever I see other parents in the same boat: A dad getting frustrated with his kid for interrupting during a meeting; A mum who has to drop from a call to deal with her childcare falling through. Every time it happens it helps normalize the situation. Dr Gretchen Goldman’s tweet went viral for this reason – being honest about the reality of working motherhood.

Every time in my career I get the opportunity to take the next step, I wonder if instead I should be stepping back. Every mum I know in tech has to contend with this. No surprise when I read back the list I have written, I know I am super privileged to be in the position I am and grateful for it. Not everyone gets as much choice but I wish we could fix this. In tech we like to celebrate achievements like promotions and funding, but one of the biggest under appreciated achievement has to be simply making the impossible arrangements needed to balance parenting life with work.  

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